The Arab world is watching television, and a lot of it. In fact, western ideas are starting to transform Arab culture at a pace that might be too fast, according to a researcher at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
“The information is free flowing,” says Dr. Morris Kalliny, assistant professor of marketing at Missouri University of Science and Technology. “There has been a transition from state-controlled media to almost complete freedom when it comes to accessing information. People are still trying to figure out how to handle it.”
Kalliny, who conducts research on advertising and media in the Arab world, says most Arabs who can afford a satellite dish have one in their yard. Because there are no regulations in place, this means thousands of channels are available for free.
“You still can’t access pornography in some of the Arab countries on the Internet,” Kalliny says. “But you can get it on TV.”
Kalliny says younger generations tend to embrace technology and western ideas, while older Arabs are more conservative. “It’s really not much different than in the U.S.,” he says. “You’re going to get two extremes.”
Of course, as Kalliny notes, opinions and traditions also vary from country to country in the Arab world, just as they do from region to region in the U.S.
In an effort to track cultural changes in Arab countries, Kalliny is monitoring comments posted to stories published by Al Arabiya on the Internet. Similar to Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya is a huge media conglomerate that publishes a newspaper and broadcasts news. Al Arabiya distributes information in four languages, including English.
“Al Arabyia and Al Jazeera are like CNN or BBC,” Kalliny says.
Kalliny is working with Dina Abdel-Moniem, a senior in computer engineering at Missouri S&T, and two other researchers, Dr. Salma Ghanem, dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University and Dr. Siham Elghoul, associate professor of sociology at Aim Shames University in Egypt. They are studying two weeks of stories published by Al Arabiya on the Internet. The stories are on topics that cover everything from sexual attitudes in the Middle East to the Iranian elections.
Kalliny and his colleagues have devised a methodology to analyze the comments people post to the stories. Basically, they are trying to document how attitudes are changing.
“Are people in the Arab world becoming more comfortable with personal freedom?” Kalliny asks. “That’s what we’re trying to study.”
Abdel-Moniem says English is definitely becoming the common language associated with new technologies like Twitter in Arab countries. But she and Kalliny agree that there is one western idea that the Arab world is still not ready to adopt: separation of church and state.
“Islam is still the foundation of everything in the Arab world,” Kalliny says. “No matter how much technology changes things, I don’t think you’ll see something like separation of church and state for a very long time.”